Celtics

Gordon Hayward wishes Kyrie Irving good luck, 'excited to welcome... the other guys'

Gordon Hayward wishes Kyrie Irving good luck, 'excited to welcome... the other guys'

BURLINGTON, Mass. — The role that a healthy Gordon Hayward will play next season is a big deal for the Boston Celtics. 

But it becomes even more significant with the Celtics being among the teams that got swept up in the sea of change that engulfed the NBA this summer during free agency. 

In addition to losing Kyrie Irving (Brooklyn) and Al Horford (Philadelphia), the Celtics traded away Aron Baynes to Phoenix to free up salary cap space, and lost Marcus Morris who signed with the New York Knicks. 

“The interesting part of the league is the drama that happens every offseason,” Hayward told reporters following the Boston Celtics and Arbella Insurance Home Makeover Program. “I don’t know if there’s any league like that, where you have major guys moving teams.”

But the talk around these parts centers heavily on Irving, who left Boston despite back in October proclaiming he would re-sign with the Celtics

Hayward, who has the same birthday (March 23) as Irving, said the Celtics would miss Irving’s talent for sure. 

“I wish him the best of luck as he goes to Brooklyn. As a team we’re excited about who we have coming in,” said Hayward, who was commenting publicly for the first time since Irving's decision to not re-sign with Boston. “I’m more than excited to welcome Kemba (Walker) and Enes (Kanter), and all the other guys that are new for us.”

Hayward has been a regular at the Celtics practice facility this summer and has been pleasantly surprised to see the Celtic newcomers in regular attendance. 

But as good as they may look, Hayward knows all too well that success for Boston this season will hinge heavily on his play as well as his four teammates — Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart — who are currently bonding down under in Australia as part of Team USA. 

“That’s really cool for us to have four guys on the team, to represent the US,” Hayward said. “For sure, early stages for some bonding and chemistry building. I hope they bring back the gold.”

Hayward was on the list of participants last year to be part of Team USA, but he said his focus this offseason has been on working out in Boston in preparation for next season. 

“I wanted to just stay here, have a whole summer where I could train,” Hayward said. “Try to get myself feeling pretty good.”

As much as this summer has been about building up his body, Hayward admits it has also been good boost to his confidence, too. 

“More than anything, just building back some confidence; being able to do everything that I’m used to doing,” he said. “Reps is what gives you confidence, being able to do things over and over and over and not worry about how my ankle is feeling or having to be cautious with it, has been really good for my confidence.” 

The addition of Walker and Kanter along with the continued growth of Tatum and Brown will certainly bode well for Boston’s chances at success this year. 

But for them to have a special season, one in which they defy the odds and finish at or near the top of the NBA standings, the play of Hayward will go far in determining how far this team can go. 

Last season, Hayward showed flashes near the end of the season of being All-Star Hayward. 

But as defenses tightened up on Hayward, his impact scoring-wise significantly decreased and defensively, he struggled at times keeping himself between the basket and defenders.

The 29-year-old appeared in 72 games for Boston, averaging 11.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.4 assists while averaging 25.9 minutes per game — his fewest since he averaged 16.9 minutes per game as a rookie with the Jazz. 

Hayward should improve most if not all of those numbers this season, especially coming off a summer when he was able to return back to his pre-injury offseason regimen.

“That has felt really nice; being able to train how I’m used to training,” Hayward said. “Not having to worry about doing stuff for only 10 minutes, only doing a certain amount of reps. It’s been really good from that standpoint, I’ll say.”

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Stop being surprised by Marcus Smart's 3-point shooting

Stop being surprised by Marcus Smart's 3-point shooting

It’s time to stop acting so surprised by Marcus Smart’s 3-point shooting.

We now have the past 2 1/2 years of data that suggests that, when healthy, Smart is an above-average 3-point shooter. He shot nearly 39.7 percent beyond the arc in Boston’s 2017 playoff run and carried the momentum into last season when he shot a career-best 36.4 percent. Eleven games into the 2019-20 season, Smart is shooting 40.8 percent while putting up a hefty 6.9 attempts per game.

This isn’t a fluke. No longer does Smart need a snow-day practice session to harness his 3-point superpowers. Smart’s hard work — and, maybe more important, sustained good health — has allowed his natural talents to be spotlighted.

MORE FORSBERG: It's a winning play from Tatum, with help from Smart 

A Smart pull-up 3-pointer used to elicit groans. Now it’s one of Boston’s better looks. Yes, he's still prone to the occasional bold heat check but the results speak for themselves. Smart ranks 13th in the NBA in total 3-pointers made (31) this season and there’s no reason to believe that, given the offensive talent around him this season, this isn’t sustainable.

This isn’t Smart getting hot from one spot or feasting on just open catch-and-shoot looks. On Friday night against Golden State in San Francisco, Smart made five 3-pointers, confidently firing when the ball came his way in transition. When the Celtics kicked out to Smart after an offensive rebound late in the first quarter, it kickstarted their comeback from a 15-point deficit. Early in the fourth quarter, when a defender rushed to impede his path to the paint, Smart hit a little step-back 3-pointer from straightaway.

Smart finished 5-for-9 beyond the arc. It’s the 13th time in his career that he’s made at least five triples in a game (including postseason). Eleven of those have come in the past two-plus seasons. He’s made at least four 3-pointers in each of Boston’s past four wins.

The inconsistencies you remember from the past might have had more to do with health than talent.

Whether it was shredding his hand punching a mirror a few years back or tearing a ligament in his thumb later that season, there have been ailments that contributed to stretches of poor shooting. Still, what Smart is doing now doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone in the Celtics organization.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens and president of basketball operations Danny Ainge have long maintained that Smart had the right mechanics to thrive with the 3-point shot. He’s certainly never lacked for confidence. Assistant coach Jay Larranaga spent a lot of time working with Smart when that shot struggled early in his career. Now Smart fires away with the confidence of someone that completely trusts his shot.

The 3-point shot now accounts for just under 70 percent of Smart’s total shot attempts this season. That’s up from 61 percent last season. While Boston’s offensive quartet of Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Gordon Hayward have relentlessly attacked the basket this year — Boston’s drives way up from a season ago — Smart has been the beneficiary of drive-and-kicks, particularly when the driver kicks out with a hockey assist and the ball moves quickly to Smart while catching the defense in rotation.

Even better, Smart’s 3-point penchant hasn’t come at the expense of his playmaking. He’s still averaging 4.6 assists per game, providing needed ball-handling with Hayward injured and taking some of the load off Walker.

The NBA’s shot-tracking data hammers home Smart’s better shot selection in recent years. Half of Smart’s 3-point attempts this season have come with zero dribbles and he’s made 40 percent (22 of 55) of those quality catch-and-shoot looks. Smart is shooting 43.6 percent on all “wide-open” 3-pointers (6 feet or more of space) and 38.7 on “open” looks (4-6 feet). More encouraging: He has only six attempts in what’s deemed tight (2-4 feet) coverage and none with “very tight (0-2 feet).

In fact, Smart hasn’t taken a “very tight” covered 3-pointer in either of the past two seasons. Smart isn’t forcing anything and showing a greater maturity in shot selection than at times earlier in his career.

We get it — it was those ill-timed, defense-smothered 3-pointers that used to make fans cringe. Smart didn’t shoot the ball well enough early in his career to justify some of the bold pull-up offerings he’d take.

Now he does. He's earned that trust. And it's time to stop being so surprised when those shots go in.

Don’t miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Kings, which tips off Sunday at 3 p.m. ET with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Scal have the call of the game at 3:30 p.m. You can also stream the game through the MyTeams App.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

The historical significance of the Celtics' 10-game winning streak

The historical significance of the Celtics' 10-game winning streak

The Celtics sit atop the NBA having run off 10 wins in a row after dropping their season opener. It's their longest winning streak since Brad Stevens' crew had a 16-game run two seasons ago.

It's the 29th time a C's team has had a winning streak of 10 games or longer and it bodes well for future success in a season when it happens, including eight of their 17 NBA championship seasons.

Our friends at @BostonSportsInf have crunched the numbers and only once has a C's team with a 10-gamer failed to make the playoffs.

That 1970-71 team, in Tommy Heinsohn's second season as coach and featuring John Havlicek and Dave Cowens, went 44-38 and finished third in the Atlantic Division. 

Don’t miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Kings, which tips off Sunday at 3 p.m. ET with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Scal have the call of the game at 3:30 p.m. You can also stream the game through the MyTeams App.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.